Rolling With Joy

When Missy gets hold of a pair of dice, watch out. Magic is likely to happen. 

“YEAH!!” 

Missy’s developmental disabilities make it difficult for her to take part in a lot of games. But when dice need rolling, cards need drawing or any kind of random factor enters in, she quickly takes the spotlight. Not only does Missy roll with gusto, she typically rolls well – to the point where we’ve sometimes claimed her as our family’s secret weapon at holiday board games. 

It’s given her an impressive winning streak against my wife Heather at Candy Land. 

It helped her trounce all comers – roughly a dozen players or so – in a sprawling Yahtzee battle. 

And yes, it gave her just a little frustration at our last gathering when that famous luck went south for a while, producing 1’s and 2’s on the dice instead of 5’s and 6’s. No one’s perfect, right? 

Even so, I’ve still been tempted to have her pick our lottery numbers. We’ve learned to respect the gift – and more importantly, to appreciate the glee. 

You see, that’s the best part. Missy LOVES being “the roller.” It lets her play on an equal level with everyone else. More than that, it lets her be appreciated, even celebrated at times. 

For her, it’s a pathway to joy. 

And she’s far from the only one. 

I don’t want to throw the word around casually. I’m not  just referring to a brief burst of happiness, though that’s often a side effect. Joy is tougher than that, something that sustains you even when the circumstances don’t. If “hope” is the willingness to work toward a positive outcome that you desire but can’t yet see, then “joy” is the fuel for the fire that keeps you moving, letting you hold each moment close for what it is.

That’s not an easy thing. Especially these days. 

Many of us are tired. Many of us have losses. And when everything in the season starts shouting at us to “Celebrate! Celebrate!”, sometimes it just piles more on. We feel out of place … if we have the energy left to feel anything at all. 

But when we find a place – not the one the world wants to give us, but one that’s truly our own – something opens up.

When we can share appreciation for another – however simple and small it may seem – that something spreads.

Remember the Charlie Brown Christmas tree? Bedraggled, overlooked, but able to flourish with some support and love. Not unlike Charlie Brown himself, for that matter: mocked in the role that others tried to give him, but triumphant despite himself when he put it aside to reach out to something neglected.

We all have light to share. Not “jobs to do,” with the grinding sense of obligation that can imply, but a little spark that’s part of who and what we are. Maybe it’s just a glimmer, barely visible to anyone else.

But if you put enough glimmers together, they become a chandelier.

That’s what joy can be.

That’s what we can be.

May we all share in that gift, this season and beyond, with a joy that not only sustains but welcomes. May it become second nature, but never taken for granted.

Magic happening? Why not?

After all, this is how we roll.

A Gentle Light

When I told a friend Roger Whittaker had died, her reaction was not entirely unexpected.

“Who?”

The smooth-voiced baritone occupied one of those interesting musical niches. Depending on where and when you grew up, he was either full-screen or off the radar entirely. He had a fan base of millions that followed him in concert and on TV, but no real celebrity profile. His signature song, “The Last Farewell,” sat virtually unnoticed for four years before abruptly going viral; another piece, “I Am But a Small Voice,” was briefly unavoidable if you were within earshot of a children’s choir.

In short, he had fame without being Famous.

And really, that’s not a bad place to be.

We don’t glamorize that sort of thing, almost by definition. The big dream, after all, is supposed to be what the Muppets once called “The Standard Rich and Famous Contract.” Celebrity with a Capital C, the sort of thing that comes with mansions, awards, screaming fans, gossip writers, obsessed stalkers, nuisance lawsuits, no hint of privacy …

Er, remind me why we want this again?

It’s not wrong, of course. Not entirely. When you look at it closely, the “rich and famous” dream is just an exaggeration of two things we all want very much.

First, we want freedom from worry. The ability to handle crises, needs, even some fun, without it being a stress or a strain.

Second, we want someone to remember us. To think about us kindly. Maybe even to know that something we did had an impact on someone else.

That first part, the freedom from worry, is pretty elusive, to be fair. We’ve all got different lives and situations and they can change with amazing speed. If the pandemic taught us nothing else, it showed us how something as fundamental as health is not a given and how thoroughly its absence can transform a once “normal” life.

But the second part – memory. That’s a little more achievable.

I don’t mean that we’ll all have continents light up at the mention of our name. For some of my more introverted friends, that might even be a nightmare more than a dream. But we all have something we can share, some way to touch a life beyond our own.

For some, it’s music or storytelling. For some, it might be the ability to build or repair or restore. It might even be a simple gift of time, lifting up a neighbor or a stranger, showing them they’re not alone and that someone else cares.

That doesn’t require a limo or a record deal (although I suppose it never hurts). Just the willingness to see beyond your own skin and reach out.

Our lives touch each other all the time, like marbles packed in a jar. We can’t help it.  But what we can do is make that touch matter.

Maybe we won’t set the world ablaze. But frankly, there’s enough burning as it is. If enough of us add a soft light, just where we are, maybe that’s enough.

After all, enough small lights can make a world shine. And the ones who see your light won’t forget it.

So here’s to the Rogers, big and small. Here’s to the ones you labored for, the ones who’ll remember your presence and be better for it.

And when you reach your “Last Farewell,” may the chords you struck linger on.